Watching the World
Plastic is now being produced biologically and may one day be grown as a farm crop, reports the International Herald Tribune of Paris, France. The technology for this new plastic began 65 years ago when a scientist found that certain bacteria can produce a plasticlike substance similar to polypropylene. The substance serves as the bacteria’s source of stored energy, comparable to the role of starch in plants and fat in mammals. By isolating the bacteria’s plastic-producing genes and transferring them to certain types of plants, scientists hope in time to grow on a larger scale what they call biopolymers. Reportedly this biological plastic is fully renewable, biodegradable, and nontoxic.
A recent study revealed that “religious worship among the French continues on a free-fall,” according to the Paris newspaper Le Figaro. The study showed that although 82 percent of the French population claims to be Catholic, only 12 percent of this number, mostly elderly women, regularly attend church services. Additionally, 44 percent of those claiming to be Catholic say they are “nonpracticing Catholics,” and 83 percent of these admit that “they never set foot inside a church.” Le Figaro notes that the French seem to be a nation of nonpracticing Catholics. Their religious affiliation appears to spring more from lingering social customs, such as baptism, marriage, and funerals, than from active faith.
“Smallpox killed 2,000 Romans a day for several years during the reign of philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus,” says Health magazine. “It slaughtered two million Aztecs in the 16th century, after Spanish missionaries lined up the Indians to kiss a Crucifix—with no thought, of course, given to its cleanliness.” It also decimated a number of North American Indian tribes, and as recently as the 18th century, it caused up to 600,000 deaths a year in Europe. Since Edward Jenner’s discovery of a vaccine for smallpox in 1796, efforts have been made to eradicate the deadly disease, and the last victim died in 1978. “It was the first, and so far only, disease science can claim to have abolished completely,” says Health. But the virus still lives, under the auspices of the World Health Organization, in vials placed in secure vaults in Atlanta and Moscow, and no decision has been reached on what to do with them. Some favor destroying them completely before they are accidentally or deliberately released, while others feel that science may have a later use for the virus. Meanwhile, both the Soviet Union and the United States have resumed giving smallpox vaccinations to their armed forces.
NO CASH, PLEASE!
Customers entering the showrooms of a furniture factory in Johannesburg, South Africa, are met with the sign: “We do not accept cash. Cheques or credit cards only.” According to The Star, a newspaper in Johannesburg, the owner believes that the handling of cash attracts muggers and robbers, and he has decided to have neither cash in the safe nor money transported to the bank. Thus, all business is done by check or credit card only. The employees also receive their weekly wage by check. “They were uneasy every time a stranger walked in,” says the owner about his employees, “but are now more relaxed since the no-cash policy.”
MILLIONS ABORTED IN BRAZIL
An article on abortion, written by Professor Carlos Alberto Di Franco in the Brazilian newspaper O Estado de S.Paulo, stated that a World Health Organization estimate “places Brazil as the world champion of abortions, with more than three million abortions annually.” The article observes: “Curiously, this information does not stir up any particular movement in favor of life.” According to Professor Di Franco, on the one hand Brazilians struggle to protect their forests and work hard to reduce infant mortality while on the other hand they continue to advocate the legalization of abortion.
SIGHT BY EARTHQUAKE
An 84-year-old resident of Newcastle, Australia, had her sight restored suddenly as a result of the disastrous earthquake a few months ago. For three years she had been able to see only dark shapes, but after the quake she could even read the newspaper. Her doctor suggests that the shock of the earthquake may have caused adrenaline to rush to her eyes, thus helping to restore her sight. The West Australian newspaper quotes her as saying: “I just saw clearly. It just happened like that in a few seconds. To me it seemed my eyes opened, like that, wide. Of course they didn’t but I saw, and they have remained the same ever since.”
According to Demos, a bulletin published by the Dutch Demographic Institute, an average of 381,000 babies are born worldwide each day. Their life prospects, however, depend greatly on where they are born. Japan boasts the world’s lowest infant-mortality rate with only 5 out of 1,000 babies dying within their first year. The infant-mortality rate is considerably higher in other countries, such as in Brazil where 71 out of 1,000 die within their first year and in East and West Africa where 110 out of 1,000 die. Survival chances for babies in Afghanistan are worse, with 194 deaths per 1,000 babies. Worldwide, nearly 31,000 infants die each day.
In commemoration of the 60th anniversary of Emperor Hirohito’s reign, Japan minted a special gold coin four years ago. According to Asiaweek magazine, now “investigators believe there are at least 103,000 fakes in circulation, some of them in vaults at the Bank of Japan, the top monetary authority. Officials reckon it is the country’s worst case of counterfeiting this century.” Both the genuine and the counterfeit coins contain 20 grams of 24-karat gold, worth about $270 at the recent price of gold. However, considering the commemorative coin’s face value of ¥100,000 ($690), counterfeiters “saw a quick way to market gold at twice the buying price” notes Asiaweek.
The furry koala, the lovable symbol of Australia, is now at risk of becoming an endangered species, says The New York Times. The species has dwindled from several million 50 years ago to some 400,000 now and continues to decline. While disease plays a part, the greatest reason for the decline lies with man. Almost 80 percent of the koala’s food supply and natural habitat have been eradicated by human development. The two-foot-long [0.6 m] koalas subsist almost exclusively on leaves and shoots of the eucalyptus tree, and thousands of these trees have been cut down to make room for homes, farmland, and resorts along Australia’s east coast. Additionally, a study has shown that most koalas now die because of being struck by automobiles.
In the fall of 1989, astronomers were astonished to discover the vast sheet of galaxies they named the Great Wall; they did not expect the universe to contain such a large structure. But since then, two teams of astronomers have announced their conclusion that the Great Wall may be just one of the closest of more than a dozen vast concentrations of galaxies. What surprises them even more is that these structures seem to occur at evenly spaced intervals, suggesting, according to The New York Times, “a structure to the universe so regular and immense that it defies current theories of cosmic creation and evolution.” One astronomer calls the regularity of the spacing between these structures mind-boggling, while another asserts that if these findings are confirmed, “it is safe to say we understand less than zero about the early universe.”
POOR LITTLE SOULS?
Ticks in Japan had both good times and bad times last year. Reveling in a particularly humid summer, they descended in droves on Japanese households. Manufacturers leapt into action. They enterprisingly produced vacuum cleaners designed to exterminate bugs. Sales soared. One Osaka-based company alone sold 800,000 cleaners, which killed an estimated 160 thousand million ticks. However, the destruction of so much life evidently awakened the manufacturer’s Buddhist conscience. Asahi Evening News quoted a spokesman of the company as saying: “Even though they were vermin, we felt a bit sorry for them.” So, at a Buddhist temple, his company held a memorial service “to pray for the repose of these ticks’ souls.”